Program evaluation

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Program evaluation in outdoor education, adventure education, & other experiential intervention programs


Starting points

Recommended resources

Why program evaluation?

It has become increasingly important for outdoor and experiential education organizations to demonstrate clear evidence of effectiveness in achieving desired goals for two main reasons: necessity and morality.

Conducting program evaluation does not guarantee the quality of a program, but high quality programs are more likely to be engaged in program evaluation.

Reason #1: Necessity - Because you have to!

State, federal and even private funding for intervention programs increasingly requires rigorous program evaluations to be conducted. Thus, conducting program evaluations is becoming a necessity for many programs.

Reason #2: Morality - Because you want to!

There is also a moral argument that it is a responsibility of those who design and conduct the programs to be rigorous in ensuring the best possible experiences are provided for participants. Just as with safety, for which an outdoor organization is expected to provide best-practice management of risk, so too there is a psycho-educational responsibility for providing high quality experiences for participants. In this day and age, this should probably include the conduct of peer-reviewed research and formal program evaluation.

There are several other motivations for research and evaluation (see 7 stage hierarchy), but necessity (external motivation) and morality (internal motivation) are the two major ends of the motivational spectrum underlying efforts to conduct program evaluation.

Common practices in program evaluation



Gass, M., & Neill, J. T. (2001). Introduction to program evaluation. Presentation to the 29th Annual International Conference of the Association for Experiential Education, 2 November.

Greenaway, R. Evaluation of training/learning books & reviews. Active Reviewing.

Hendricks, B. (no date). Improving evaluation in experiential education. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools.

Neill, J. T. (2010). Program evaluation and outdoor education: An overview. Presentation to the 16th National Outdoor Education Conference, Notre Dame University, Fremantle, Western Australia, January 10-13.

Priest, S. (2001). A program evaluation primer. Journal of Experiential Education, 24(1), 34-40.

Watters, R. (1988). Benefit cost analysis of non-commercial outdoor programs. In Proceedings of the 1986 Conference on Outdoor Recreation.

Watters, R. (1991). Cost benefit analysis of recreation programs for the disabled. Idaho State University Outdoor Program, Pocatello, ID.

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